Graduation Remarks by Alan Shapiro

  Warren Wilson Commencement Address   7/14/17

To our amazing class of graduates, and to their devoted, forbearing, patient and generous parents, children, spouses and friends, I want to begin by saying how privileged I am to be up here to officially congratulate you all on this happy day of celebration. This achievement surely belongs to all of you. Think back, beloved graduates, to the day you announced to your families your intention to pursue an MFA, or even further back when you revealed to them your passion for writing. In my case, I was sixteen years old when I let slip to my parents that I intended to make my way in the world as a poet. I come from a long line of MD’s, not doctors, but meat dealers. You can imagine how my parents took the news. My father said, “A what?” as if I’d just announced plans to become a shepherd or a male belly dancer. “A poet.” I said. I want to write poetry for a living. Was I joking? Was I trying to disprove the stereotype that all Jews make money? Didn’t I realize I wouldn’t make enough to buy a pair of slippers. I said something to the effect that making enough isn’t what I want from life. My dad shot back, “Then be a lawyer for god’s sake, you’ll make more than enough!” Your families, I’m sure, weren’t quite as nonplussed as mine. For here they all are, today, not just to applaud your achievement, how far you’ve come, how hard you’ve worked, but to give you hope and courage for the marathon you’re about to run.

The undeniable and irreducibly unique abilities that got you accepted to this program in the first place have now been challenged, cajoled, goaded, and “annotated” into what I think of as the two ingredients indispensable to a writer’s life: humility and arrogance, humility that acknowledges the need to never stop learning, and the arrogance that assumes you’ll always be smart enough to learn anything that someone else is smart enough to teach you. Above and beyond refinements of craft, this program has taught you that writing is itself a life long non-degree conferring program from which there is no graduation, and that the longer you work at the art we love, the more of a beginner you become. As graduates of Warren Wilson, you have now officially entered the Ground Hog Day Academy of the writing world, in which everyone’s a permanent freshman and every day’s the first day of class.

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Congratulations, Class of July, 2017!

The MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College

Class of July 2017:

Mark Elber (poetry)

Esme Franklin (poetry)

Sarah Gauch (fiction)

Amy Lin (fiction)

Leigh Lucas (poetry)

Trish Marshall (poetry)

Micah Matthews (fiction)

Amanda Newell (poetry)

Tiana Nobile (poetry)

Laura Otis (fiction)

Andrew Peterson (fiction)

Maya Phillips (poetry)

Blake Reemstma (poetry)

Susan Jo Russell (poetry)

David Saltzman (fiction)

Nomi Stone (poetry)

Peter Schireson (poetry)



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Jul ’17 MFA Schedule: Friday, July 14th

Public Lectures:

9:30 a.m. (in Ransom Fellowship Hall, behind chapel)

DAISY FRIED: Singing in the Dark Times

In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing
About the dark times.
–Bertolt Brecht

In ordinary times, writers feel they have a choice whether to be political and social. In times of public crisis, politics tends to invade us. What do we do with that as writers? This lecture is not about how to turn our work into propaganda, but about how we might make good, personal, intimate art in response to bad public times—art which says what we think without oversimplification and falsification. We’ll look at ways the visionary, the quotidian, and the political meet, perhaps in work by Wisława Szymborska, Reginald Dwayne Betts, Layli Long Soldier, Bertolt Brecht, James Richardson and Mohsin Hamid.

10:45 AM, Ransom Fellowship Hall. PETER TURCHI: The Strategic Release of Information; or A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Information Dump 

Exposition, information, background, context—whatever we call it, we recognize it as the stuff that’s necessary and yet, potentially, inert. One question: Where to put it? Another: How do we keep the reader from skipping it? (Related question: Can’t we just do without it? Please?) Yet another: Is it possible—shouldn’t it be possible—to make necessary information something more than medicine the reader needs to swallow? This lecture will grapple with those questions by looking at the openings of Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad and Toni Morrison’s A Mercy, Adam Johnson’s “Dark Meadow” and “Hurricanes Anonymous,” and more.

Graduating Student Readings:

4:30 PM, Fellowship Hall, followed by Graduation Ceremony
Amy Lin (fiction), Micah Matthews (fiction), Trish Marshall (poetry), Maya Phillips (poetry), Peter Schireson (poetry)

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Jul ’17 MFA Schedule: Friday, July 13th



Public Lectures:

9:30 a.m. JEREMY GAVRON: The Off-Road Story

We are all familiar with the road story, but what happens when a story turns off the road? This lecture will look at how nudging characters even a short distance out of their familiar landscapes, their mapped worlds, can open up new possibilities, new ways of seeing, not only for the characters, but for the writers, too. Probable texts: “Brokeback Mountain” by Annie Proulx, The Accidental by Ali Smith, Train Dreams by Denis Johnson, and “The Emerald Light in the Air” by Donald Antrim.

10:45 a.m. HEATHER McHUGH: The Object of Art

Is the object of art distinguishable from the subject of art? How literal is the literary? What “things” can be put “in words”? How does outcome bias ruin our regards and rhetorics? I hope to hold forth only transitively, via few perusings & ample examples.


Graduating Student Readings:

In Ransom Fellowship Hall, 8:15 p.m. (behind the chapel)

Sarah Gauch (fiction), Leigh Lucas (poetry), Tiana Nobile (poetry), Susan Jo Russell (poetry), David Saltzman (fiction), Nomi Stone (poetry)

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Jul ’17 MFA Schedule: Wednesday, July 12th



Readings by Graduating Students

Canon Lounge, Gladfelter, 8:15 p.m.

Mark Elber (poetry), Esme Franklin (poetry), Amanda Newell (poetry), Laura Otis (fiction), Andrew Peterson (fiction), Blake Reemtsma (poetry)

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Jul ’17 MFA Schedule: Tuesday, July 11th



Faculty Readings:

Canon Lounge, Gladfelter, 8:15 p.m.

Liam Callanan, Heather McHugh, David Haynes, Paul Otremba, Laura van den Berg

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